Health & Safety
No matter how much you prepare, distress situations can still occur. The ability to quickly alert search and rescue (SAR) authorities increases your chance of a successful outcome.
In order to safely participate in any outdoor activity, you need to properly fuel and hydrate your body. Before heading outside, grab a nutritious snack such as a piece of fruit, yogurt, a handful of nuts and some water or juice to hydrate and pump up your energy stores. Pack an additional nutritious snack and water to take along.
Pay attention to your hunger patterns and be able to recognize when your body needs food. It’s better to fuel your body before you’re feeling the effects of hunger. Never let yourself get to the point of feeling ravenous – the blood sugar swings can make you feel very tired very quickly. It’s best to eat several small meals each day and maintain consistent blood sugar levels.
Check Canada’s Food Guide for healthy eating guidelines and nutritional tips.
At the start of each season, ease into your activities. It may have been a while since you asked your body to participate in a particular sport, so don’t over-exert yourself early on. Try to do some sport-specific training before and during the season to keep your body working efficiently. There are loads of websites and books geared toward sport-specific training that you can check out.
Pay attention to your physical limitations and learn to recognize the signs of your body fatiguing. Knowing what you’re physically capable of – and respecting those limits – is invaluable when it comes to trip safety.
And don’t forget to stretch…your muscles will thank you later!
Your first line of defense in any situation you might encounter while enjoying the great outdoors is your common sense. Many people spend countless hours training to become physically prepared for outdoor pursuits; however, not nearly as many consider the mental preparation required.
Do you know your limits … and are you prepared to play within them? Are you confident enough to call it a day when conditions change or if you find you’re not feeling physically up to the challenge ahead? Do you run through survival scenarios in your mind and imagine a positive outcome EVERY TIME? Do you practice positive thinking and maintain a survivor mentality?
Without mental strength and endurance, your physical strength and skills can be severely compromised. Remember to train your mind as often as you train your body.
Be sure to carefully research the inherent risks for your chosen activity, and ensure that you have the proper, functioning safety equipment with you before you head out. Check the gear recommendations on each sport-specific page in our website for some ideas. Most importantly, ensure that you know how to use your safety gear and train with it to keep your skills fresh!
Take courses in first aid, CPR and Lifesaving. Also ensure that you have an adequate first aid kit in your pack. Consider how long you will be out and the number of people you’re traveling with when deciding how complex your fist aid kit should be. For a day trip, a basic first aid kit will do. Anything longer and you should expand the contents accordingly. Just like your safety gear, ensure that your first aid skills are up-to-date and that you review them constantly.
Safety skills and knowledge diminish over time…as the saying goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” It’s your responsibility to be aware of and prepared for the dangers and unplanned situations that may arise outdoors.
Be sun safe while you’re outside:
The highest risk time period to be out in the sun is between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. During this time, take appropriate precautions to protect yourself.
Liberally apply “waterproof” sunscreen on or near the water – remember to re-apply again after swimming.
Wear a brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a breathable long-sleeved shirt and pants to protect you from the sun more thoroughly than sunscreen.
Water is one of the most important elements in wilderness survival. Even a slight change in the balance of water in our bodies can bring on adverse physical and mental effects. Dehydration can cause depression, poor judgment, slowed muscle response, nausea, and a host of other problems that can impair survival ability.
Water helps regulate temperature, is the basis of digestion and metabolism, lubricates joints, helps eliminate wastes, and is needed for breathing (lungs need moisture).
Dehydration is deadly in hot and cold weather. When the blood in your circulatory system loses water, it gets thicker. Thick blood circulates more slowly and is harder for the heart to pump, and, in regard to temperature regulation, hinders the body’s ability to lose excess heat or circulate needed heat. When the volume of blood and extra cellular fluids decreases, water is literally sucked from the cells causing them to shrink and damaging cell membranes and the proteins inside.
Body functions are severely limited if you lose 10 percent of your weight due to dehydration yet physical, mental, and emotional impairment manifest with the slightest loss of water, especially in the heat. A loss of just 2 percent of body weight in water compromises your overall judgment by 25%. Being thirsty means you are already low.
Symptoms of hypothermia:
- Early (35-35.5 degrees): shivering, decreased awareness, unable to think or solve problems, apathy, confusion, skin pale and cool to the touch, numbness (stinging pain), loss of dexterity, deterioration of fine and complex motor skills.
- Advancing (33.8-34.4): obvious shivering, stumbling, little or no effort to protect oneself, unaware of present situation.
- Advanced (32.7-33.3): intense shivering, difficult walking, thick or slurred speech, no effort to protect oneself, skin appears ashen gray and cold, possible hallucinations.
- The death zone (30.5-32.2): shivering comes in waves, unable to walk, speech very difficult to understand. If the core temperature continues to drop, shivering will cease, breathing and pulse will appear absent, and the skin will become blue in colour. Death quickly follows.
Of course, hyperthermia, when the core body temperature is elevated, can be equally deadly. The signs and symptoms are similar. The body is beginning to shut down. Being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of exposure in yourself and others is mandatory, as these are the body’s warning signs that things are getting out of whack on a cellular level.
In immersion, hypothermia is vastly accelerated. Falling into water will speed up your loss of body heat immensely.
Cold Water Shock
Imagine that you are enjoying a warm day on your boat. You get up to grab something. Suddenly, you lose your balance and fall into water that is less than 15°C. Cold water can paralyze your muscles instantly. Sadly, many people do not understand this danger and how important it is to avoid it.
Cold water shock likely causes more deaths than hypothermia. Canada’s cold waters are especially dangerous when you fall into them unexpectedly. For three to five minutes, you will gasp for air. You could also experience muscle spasms or a rise in your heart rate and blood pressure. Worse yet, you could choke on water or suffer a heart attack or a stroke.
REMEMBER: Even strong swimmers can suffer the effects of cold water shock.
If you are wearing a lifejacket or PFD before falling into cold water, it will keep you afloat while you gain control of your breathing and prevent drowning from loss of muscle control. Trying to grab a lifejacket or PFD while in the water, let alone putting one on, will be very hard because of the changes your body will be experiencing.
If you end up in the water, do everything you can to save your energy and body heat. Swim only if you can join others or reach safety. Do not swim to keep warm.
You may survive longer in cold water if you:
wear a Canadian-approved lifejacket or PFD so that you will not lose valuable energy trying to keep your head above water;
climb onto a nearby floating object to get as much of your body out of or above the water as possible;
cross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up close to them to help you keep your body heat;
huddle with others with chests close together, arms around mid to lower back, and legs intertwined.
For more information, or to see what really happens during cold water immersion, visit coldwaterbootcamp.com.
It is important to practice with fire-making items, and not to underestimate the skill necessary to start a fire, especially in wet weather. A SAR volunteer recalls a spring ski trip when he and a friend fell through spring ice. Somehow managing to get out after fifteen minutes and already well into hypothermia, they found their fingers numb and useless. “Bring a matchbox you can open without using your fingers,” he cautions, recalling finally opening the box with his teeth and getting a fire started by lighting a drift of dead leaves under a cut bank. He survived the incident because he could start a fire that day, and he reminds us, “you get cold really fast, but once cold you warm up very slowly indeed. An outside source of heat can be vital.”
When lighting a fire, the basic components are:
- Spark: The spark is provided by matches (ideally an abundant supply of waterproof/windproof strike anywhere matches stored in a sealed container) or by a lighter, magnesium starter block, striker starter, or flint and steel.
- Tinder: Tinder is dry, fine and highly flammable. Some can be found in the field, and some can be brought along. Examples include absorbent cotton (from first aid kit), dead dry grasses, tree pitch, commercial fire-starters or candles, and dry bark, such as birch or cedar.
- Fuel: Fuel must be added in increments of increasing size. Kindling must be small and dry.
- Oxygen: The fire must be allowed to get enough oxygen to burn. A teepee arrangement over the tinder is a good way to start the fire.
Make sure you collect enough wood before you start your fire. It’s much easier to find wood when it is still light out, and before your fire is just about to go out.
Frostbite is when your skin begins to freeze due to prolonged exposure to cold conditions. It usually happens to your feet, ears, nose, or fingers, but any skin that’s exposed can be affected. Dress properly – in warm layers and with a hat, scarf and gloves – to prevent frostbite. Watch for symptoms including white or yellowish-gray skin that looks swollen or waxy; itchy, tingly, painful or numb skin; blistering (in severe cases).
If you feel symptoms of frostbite, immediately get indoors and into warm, dry clothing. Warm the affected body part by immersing it in warm water until the sensation returns. CAUTION: Do not use hot water! Get medical attention as soon as possible.
Ticks are commonly found in tall grassy areas or wooded areas in British Columbia. They are very small bugs – less than the surface area of your pinkie fingernail – which normally bite animals to feed on their blood. However, on occasion, ticks will bite humans instead.
Though the odds of contracting an infection from a tick bite are low, there have been reported cases of Lyme Disease from tick bites in BC, so it is worthwhile to take measures to avoid being bitten. When in tick country – be sure to stick to cleared paths and trails; tuck in all clothing, including pants into socks; use insect repellant containing DEET. When leaving tick country – check all clothing, skin and hair for ticks; and, always check your pets for ticks.
You should be able to recognize a tick and know how to remove it, should you find one. If the tick is not buried too deeply into your skin, use tweezers to grab its body and slowly extract it from your skin. Do not squeeze the body. Ensure that you remove all body parts from the site. Clean and disinfect the wound and wash your hands with soap and water. If the tick is buried deep into your skin, have a doctor remove it in order to help prevent infection. Read more on tick safety.
Though Canadian wilderness streams and lakes may seem clean, clear and potable, don’t take any chances. Many surface waters can contain parasites that can quickly cause diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting if ingested. Think before you drink. Always purify any water that you have not packed-in yourself. Backcountry travelers should always boil any “natural” water for at least 2 minutes (preferred method), or chemically purify it, before using it to drink or to brush teeth. These processes will kill bacteria, viruses and parasites that may have found their way into the water.
This page is not meant to be a definitive source on survival technology. Its purpose is to provide you with essential survival information, and you are encouraged to seek out further information from your local public library, or within your local scouting community and its publications.
SEARCH AND RESCUE IN CANADA
In Canada, responsibility for search and rescue is shared between the federal government and the provinces and territories. The federal government is responsible for air and sea search and rescue, while the provinces and territories are responsible for land and inland water search and rescue.
More about Search and Rescue Canada
The Canadian Forces (national defence) and the Coast guard perform search and rescue on behalf of the federal government. The Canadian Forces are responsible for conducting searches for lost or downed aircraft as well as the rescue of any survivors. the Canadian Coast guard is responsible for search and rescue related to vessels that are lost or in distress off the Canadian coastline, on the great Lakes, or on the St. Lawrence seaway.
Psychology of Survival
Survival begins with the will to live. Many recorded rescues have shown that strength, knowledge or equipment were not always the deciding factor in a survival situation. Instead a strong will to live and a good mental attitude made the difference between life and death.
The motto of scouts is the basic rule for survival. But it does not just mean carrying a survival kit; it also refers to having a “prepared attitude.”
More about "Be Prepared"
In a survival situation the first threat to your life will not be the lack of shelter, water or food, but how you deal with one of man’s basic instincts, the fight or flight reflex. This is an instant decision on your part to either stand and face a threat or to run. Your reflex is triggered by fear, and how you react to the trigger will determine whether or not you survive. The best way to handle fear is to learn the knowledge, then practice the skills you will need to survive.
By learning how everything possible from nature; attract attention so rescuers can find you; and above all how to control your emotions and keep a clear mind, you will be able to react in a quick and positive manner to a stressful situation and be less likely to just sit down in confusion, crying “Why me?”
Take the time to appraise your situation, your physical condition and the resources available. Every decision you make will be important, so think before you act. Resist the urge to feel sorry for yourself and instead concentrate on making your stay as tolerable as possible. Obviously this sounds easier than it is, but consider the alternative. Survival is not by chance; it is by discipline – a discipline of attitude, thought and action.
All the teaching in the world will be of little use to you if you cannot concentrate on the task at hand. Make no mistake, to accomplish this in a survival situation will not be as easy as it sounds, but if you tell yourself that you will be found, the searchers are assembling, and you realize that it is your responsibility to aid in your own rescue, then you will have defeated the greatest danger to your survival: fear and panic! Just remember your best survival tool is your head; it’s always working, you can’t lose it, and it’s not that heavy to carry.
Pain and Injury
Pain, your body’s response to injury, can be very disabling. Despite this, when threatened with danger your body can at times momentarily mask pain. For example, while gingerly limping along on your sprained ankle, you meet a skunk and it rears its tail at you. No doubt you will find yourself running as though your ankle was never hurt. This is not to say that you should ignore the cause of your pain, but that by keeping yourself busy you may be able to use this masking ability to help manage it and keep it from weakening your will to go on. Any injuries, even minor cuts, sprains, or bruising can drain you physically as well as emotionally and should be dealt with immediately. With that in mind it is recommended that you take first-aid training offered by St. John ambulance or the Red Cross.
More about Pain and Injury
Pain, injuries, extreme temperatures, fatigue, anxiety, psychological trauma such as fear, and the loss of body heat and fluids are all aggravating factors that will increase the risk of your body going into shock. Shock is the depression of the nervous system brought about by a reduction in the volume of blood and body fluids available for circulation throughout the body. Immediate attention to injuries and the retention of your body’s heat and fluids, while avoiding fatigue, are vital. Just being in a survival situation can lead you into shock, so do the tasks suggested throughout this manual and reassure yourself that help is on the way. it is your responsibility to be alive when it arrives!
Fortunately the chances of survival-related shock are diminished as you master the skills needed to survive.
in addition to physical and psychological discomforts, insects such as black flies or mosquitoes may also have to be dealt with, especially at dawn and dusk. the best ways of dealing with them are to tuck in and zip up all your clothing, spread mud on your hands and face if need be and if possible, make a smudge fire by burning green wood or leaves to produce an insect-repelling smoke.
With an average body temperature of 37°C (98.6°F), cooler temperatures found in the outdoors can expose you to cold injuries, make pain, thirst and hunger seem worse and sap your ability to think and your will to go on. Factors contributing to such cold injuries as exposure and frostbite are:
- Dampness and temperature of your environment.
- Wind velocity.
- Age, size and physical condition.
- Degree of protection your outer clothing and a shelter can provide.
Exposure, the common term for hypothermia, is the lowering of your body’s temperature due to cold external temperatures or wind-chill, which is the combination of air temperature and wind velocity. The effects of either can be dramatically increased if you become wet. Hypothermia is a year-round threat, as the forest is always cooler than your body and the slightest breeze will cool your skin and remove much needed moisture. That is just how a fan cools you in the summer.
More about Exposure
A body temperature of 34 to 35°C (about 93.2 to 95°F), which is the temperature of a very hot day, represents the transition from mild to moderate hypothermia. Your body will attempt to conserve heat by drawing it away from your extremities to protect your vital organs. You will begin to shiver intensely, slur your speech, feel exhausted and sleepy, be clumsy and unable to walk a 9m (30 ft.) line properly – the best self-field test for early hypothermia. Worse yet, your ability to reason will deteriorate.
Shivering, which is rapid uncontrollable muscle movement, is your body’s automatic method of heat creation that causes the muscles to “burn” (metabolize) blood sugar to produce internal heat, thus warming your body’s core. Unfortunately, shivering uses up your body’s stores of “fuel”, just as any other work does. It is better to use your limited blood sugar to work towards getting into shelter, rather than counting on shivering to warm you. When you stop shivering from exposure you are either adequately warm or so hypothermic that your body function has been severely impaired. This occurs at about 32°C (about 90°F) and means you are well on your way to death!
The best treatment for hypothermia is prevention. Keep warm and dry. to reduce heat loss, do up all buttons and zippers, tuck your shirt and jacket into the top of your pants, tuck your pants into your socks, pull your shirt and coat collars up, cover your head, then insulate yourself from the ground and keep out of the wind. if your fingers or toes are cold, wiggling them won’t make them warm, but exercising the large muscles of your arms and legs will. to warm your hands, swing your arms vigorously or put them in your armpits or groin. Keeping your big muscles moving will help create heat, but at the same time do not over do it and cause sweating or increased fatigue by overheating or overexerting yourself.
Dehydration also plays a major role in most cases of exposure, so drink plenty of water or if possible hot sweet drinks to replace your body’s losses. do not eat snow, as it will only cause your body to “burn” more fuel to melt it and lower your body’s core temperature.
Any conditions that promote hypothermia can lead to frostbite. Frostbite is the formation of ice crystals within skin tissues, causing them to freeze. it is usually limited to the regions furthest from your body’s core; hands, feet, face, ears, bottom of your chin or the tip of your nose. Frostbite occurs when blood flow to these regions is reduced as a result of hypothermia or from constricting garments.
More about Frostbite
Exposure to wind dramatically increases the risk of frostbite. So, in strong winds, cover your nose, cheeks and ears with any piece of warm fabric.
The first sign of surface frostbite (also called superficial frostbite or frostnip) affects only the skin and often starts with a prickly feeling. Next, waxy white to grey patches form and the skin feels cold and numb, although the tissues beneath are still soft. If a white patch appears, warm it by skin-to-skin contact with your hand until it turns red and then keep it well protected. Do not rub the affected areas vigorously with your hands or rub oils, snow or ice on it as this will only result in further damage to the frozen tissues.
If not treated, superficial frostbite will progress to become deep frostbite with the skin turning hard and pebbly. It will become painful, red, swollen and then blister before deadening. The result can be the loss of part or all of the frostbitten parts of your body in the final stages. Again do not rub the extremities; instead use your body’s heat. at this stage, it is best not to do any unnecessary exercise since it will cause the cold blood from your frozen extremity to flow to the inner body, further reducing your core temperature and speeding up hypothermia.
Heat Stresses and Windburn
Overheating your body by overexposure to the sun’s heat or through overexertion will result in the excessive loss of valuable body fluids and salts through heavy sweating, causing a chemical imbalance called “heat cramps”. Your stomach will feel upset and you will begin to experience muscle cramps in your extremities and abdomen. Immediately rest in the shade, loosen your clothes and drink water to replace your body’s losses.
More about Heat Stresses and Windburn
If you ignore these warning signs your condition will advance to a circulatory imbalance called “heat exhaustion”. Your skin will appear pale and feel cold and clammy, your pulse will be weak but regular, and your breathing will be rapid and shallow. You will feel weaker; suffer from further nausea, possibly vomiting, headaches, blurred vision and dizziness. Immediately remove excess clothing, lie flat in the shade, elevate your feet and drink plenty of water. If you push your body further you will advance to a nervous system imbalance called “heat stroke”. At this point you may be beyond self-help, but if you can, you must cool yourself quickly or you will die! Therefore it is imperative that you pay attention to what your body tells you and respond immediately to its messages, especially in a survival situation.
Exposing skin to winds can result in a windburn, while exposure to reflected or direct sunlight during a bright or even cloudy day in the summer or winter can cause sun burning of any exposed skin. Not only will these add to your discomfort, but they will increase the loss of your body’s fluids, so every precaution should be taken to limit your exposure, either by taking advantage of shade and natural wind breaks. By covering any exposed skin from the sun and wind you not only reduce the risk of skin irritation, but you also reduce the risk of suffering from hypothermia and frostbite in the winter months. as you can see the threat of fluid and salt loss through perspiration and evaporation are always present and must be considered before you attempt to do anything in a survival situation!
Every day your body uses 2 – 3 litres of water: humidifying your skin and the air you breathe, sweating to cool itself, digesting food and removing body wastes. As a result, you can only survive for about three days without this precious fluid. As your water losses exceed your intake you will begin to show signs of dehydration; thirst, dry tongue, tiredness, nausea, sleepiness and infrequent, dark yellow urination. In addition you will increase your susceptibility to fatigue, hypothermia, and in the winter, frostbite. Therefore, rationing water losses, rather than rationing water intake is essential in a survival situation.
More about Dehydration
The loss of liquids through respiration and perspiration can be greatly reduced if you breathe through your nose, wear head cover, keep your shirt on, work in the shade at a slow pace and rest often.
Remember, “Ration your sweat, not your water!” In the winter the danger of dehydration is even greater. Your body is fighting a constant battle to humidify your skin and the dry cold air entering your lungs. You can help by covering all exposed skin where possible, while at the same time being careful not to overheat yourself. Breathing through a piece of fabric will also help pre-humidify and warm the air entering your lungs. Dehydration thickens your blood, slowing circulation in your fine blood vessels. This will reduce warmth to your extremities and increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. While fighting off the cold your body will also burn up its blood sugar and fat reserves, causing the kidneys to work overtime.
Eating causes your body to pull water into the digestive system, then to the kidneys to remove waste products through the urine. With urine accounting for the largest loss of your body’s water supply it is best to refrain from eating the first day when lost. Limiting your consumption to a bare minimum when water is scarce will reduce the amount of water required by your kidneys. in Canada’s wilderness, most lakes, rivers and streams provide safe drinking water, with the notable exception of stagnant water or cedar swamps. Despite this, certain precautions should be taken before drinking any water, no matter how clean and clear it appears. always look for any dead fish or wildlife in or near the water that could transfer micro-organisms or intestinal parasites into it and cause you to suffer from diarrhea, abdominal cramps or vomiting, thus increasing the threat of dehydration and the depleting of your body’s salts. Also be careful not to fall in, as any source of water can be dangerous. Remember, it is more important that you prevent dehydration than it is to fear the quality of water in lakes, rivers and streams in Canada.
If there is no body of water nearby, you can collect morning dew or rain from plants, by dragging a piece of cloth through them, then sucking water from the cloth. You can also tie a plastic bag over a live tree branch during the day. Water will condense inside the bag.
Another source of water is snow, but it poses its own dangers. do not eat snow! Your body uses its heat and fluids to melt it, thus increasing your risk of hypothermia. use a fire or the heat from your hands to melt snow. The soft, loose upper snow makes very little water for its volume. Use the deeper layers of snow that are more granular. They will yield more water when melted. Wherever you obtain your water, remember to:
- Drink it in small sips, large gulps will make a dehydrated person vomit, causing you not only to lose more fluids, but also valuable body salts.
- Never drink salt water, even in small quantities, as the salts in it will draw further water from your blood and tissues into your digestive tract to enable it to dissolve the salt crystals in the sea water. You will thereby only increase your body’s dehydration. Despite this, salt is essential for human survival. Your body loses salt when you sweat and urinate.
- Suffering from salt deficiency can cause muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea and tiredness. In most survival situations you will not be able to replace the salts lost so the key is to reduce your salt losses. to accomplish this and reduce the threat of dehydration it is important that unless absolutely necessary you do not wander in search of water. Instead, stay put, stay calm and stay rested to conserve your sweat and urine.
Hunger and Hypoglycemia
Like thirst, hunger can affect your judgment and undermine your will to survive. During the first 24 to 48 hour period your stomach will experience strong hunger pangs as the body begins to use its carbohydrate and fat reserves. Despite this, if you are healthy, uninjured, and limit your physical activity, your body can function without food for up to 30 days. Physical exertion and the surrounding temperature affect your feelings of hunger. Extreme heat, which decreases the quantity of fuel needed to keep the body going, discourages hunger. Cold on the other hand, stimulates it, because the body needs more fuel to offset heat loss in a cold environment. Generally the body registers hunger when there is a physical need for food. Most people are conditioned to eat at certain times of the day, and their bodies produce the appropriate feelings on schedule. The best ways to defeat hunger pangs are to keep your mind busy on the task at hand, sleep or drink water. However, you must be cautious not to drink large quantities of water, as it will dilute the salt reserves in your body, resulting in stomach cramps or inducing vomiting, which will only increase your risk of dehydration.
More about Hunger and Hypoglycemia
If you do eat, your stomach and intestines will require water for digestion. If none is available your body will draw the needed water from your blood, causing it to thicken. This will slow the circulation in your fine blood vessels, reducing warmth to your extremities, thereby increasing the risk of shock as well as the risk of hypothermia and frostbite during cold weather. Consequently, a shortage of water will require you to limit the amount of food you eat. If you do have any food do not eat it on the first day of survival. Instead, wait for the next day and then only eat small amounts slowly to get the greatest benefit from it.
Another threat is hypoglycemia; that is, the abnormal decrease of sugar in the blood, where it is used as a very important source of energy. Anyone, especially children who have been subjected to extreme physical exertion or complete abstinence from food for twelve to thirty-six hours, can become very unresponsive or mentally dull. Failure to replace the body’s depleted stores of sugar (glycogen) may lead to vomiting, twitching, convulsions, or coma.
Food or plain sugar is the best way to treat hypoglycemia. In a survival situation it is unlikely you will have ready access to either, so prevention is your only option. Think before you act, to conserve your strength, and never over exert yourself! Conservation of your body’s heat, water supply and strength are your primary concerns. If food is available, limit your consumption to a minimum to help prevent hypoglycemia.
Fatigue, Loneliness and Boredom
When both physically and psychologically exhausted you will begin to act carelessly and experience feelings of hopelessness, frustration and boredom to the point where your only desire is to lie down and die to escape from a situation you feel is too difficult to face. You are experiencing fatigue and your mental ability to cope with the stresses of survival can be reduced as a result of it.
More about Fatigue, Loneliness and Boredom
When you are inactive, fear, loneliness and boredom will start to creep up on you and threaten to be overwhelming. the best way to overcome fear and panic is to keep your mind active. take stock of your situation and plan out the next day’s activities. Mentally look for ways you can improve your shelter, to make your stay more comfortable and help searchers find you.
If you start to feel lonely talk out loud to the tree you have befriended (hugged). It’s alive and it won’t talk back. Try to avoid a “Why me!?!” outlook on the situation. Instead, think of all the people out there looking for you and how you can help them find you alive!
To help deal with boredom, as well as keep warm while inside your shelter, tense up all your muscles for 5 – 10 seconds, and then relax them. Repeat this exercise with your feet and hand muscles to warm them also. Remember if you exercise outside your shelter you should do so in a sheltered area and only enough to warm up. If you get wet or stay out in the wind too long, the heat loss that could result may outweigh the benefits of exercise. Overdoing it could lead to physical exhaustion, thus speeding up fatigue, so be careful. to avoid the effects of fatigue you must think before you act to help reduce physical exhaustion, while at the same time keeping your mind active on the tasks at hand and think of all the people working hard to find you.
With heat loss being your greatest threat, finding or constructing a shelter to keep you dry and out of the wind the first day is critical to your survival. Man-made shelters such as the tepee, the lean-to, the tripod, the snow trench, the quinsy, to name a few, all provide the best overall chance for prolonged survival, but may require some advanced training and practice to perfect.
More about Shelter
If daylight and conditions permit, you could look for a natural shelter, like the windless side of an overhanging rock, a cave, the spreading roots and trapped earth at the base of a fallen tree, the fallen tree itself, a hollow log, or a niche under an evergreen tree. Remember these are also the natural homes for wildlife, so caution is required.
A simple shelter can be constructed right at the base of the tree you have befriended (hugged). First pick a tree near an opening in the forest that is on fairly level high ground where you can see and be seen. avoid solitary trees as there is the risk of attracting lightning, and check above your head for dead branches or trees hung up just waiting for a strong breeze to drop them. Look for branches low to the ground on your tree or nearby to supply ample shelter and bed making material. Also lookout for bee or hornet nests in the branches or at the base of the tree.
Do not choose a site near trails leading to water, as these are often routes used by animals. Locating close to water has it benefits, but if you are too close you can be troubled by insects and during storms could be subjected to winds coming off the water or flash floods caused by heavy rainfall. The sound of running water can also drown out the sound of search parties.
While working slowly and remembering to take frequent rests, start your shelter by breaking evergreen boughs or leaf covered branches off other trees and arranging them with the heavy ends of the branches leaning against and encircling the base of your tree to make a teepee-style shelter. The leaves or needles will naturally shed rain, as well as acting as a windbreak. Your shelter should be just big enough for you to fit into snugly, to help conserve the heat radiating from your body. Build a windbreak for the entrance and if needed, build a roof out of boughs, sticks, logs, leaves, moss, snow or anything that will keep the cold air out. The opening should ideally face east or south-east for the warmth of the morning sun.
In the winter, pick a medium-sized evergreen tree with branches close to the ground that has snow piled around. Dig out a trench around the trunk or, if a large branch is buried in the snow, dig a pocket just big enough for you beneath it, using the branch as a roof. Snow is an excellent insulator and windbreak but try to avoid contact with it because it cools the body.
No matter what type of shelter you find, you should build a nest or bed out of evergreen boughs or leaves, to provide insulation from the cold and damp ground. Take special care in constructing the nest or bed. Select boughs from ground level and work around the tree. Break off boughs no larger than a common lead pencil and gather enough to make a bed at least 25 cm (10 inches) deep. Start by arranging the fir boughs in rows with the cut off ends to the ground and the tip ends toward you.
Evergreen boughs have a natural curve that can be used to make the bed spring-like and comfortable. Lay the rows, overlapping, in a shingle fashion until the desired length is reached. if you are using leaves, gather as many as you can and mix in twigs and small branches to help prevent the pile from compressing from your weight. Remember lots of boughs or leaves mean better insulation from the ground, if it is winter do not remove the snow, but build on top of it as it will provide additional insulation.
Before entering your shelter, remember to tuck in and zip up your clothes. remember to use the plastic bag promoted by the “hug-a-tree and survive” presentation, then sit inside your shelter on your “nest”, with your knees pulled close to your chest and your arms wrapped around them. This is the “heat escape lessening position” (H.E.L.P.). By doing this you expose less surface area to the air and slow heat loss for your armpits and groin.
Important: Do not spend a lot of time outside the shelter trying to find material if it is windy, snowing or raining.
By following these suggestions you will increase your chances of survival. But, like anyone who is lost, you will want to be found as soon as possible. It is difficult for searchers to see or hear a person who is in a shelter, so it is important that you leave signs to tell searchers that you are nearby. Trained searchers are looking for evidence of humans, so what better way to draw attention to your temporary home than by messing up the yard.
- Overturn rocks, logs and moss.
- Scuff up the ground or snow.
- Break branches on trees and bushes all around your shelter.
- Hang personal items and things from your pockets, (e.g. necklaces, gum wrappers), put them on trees and on your shelter.
Remember, while in your shelter always listen for the searchers and answer their calls!
Only after you have slowed your heat loss should you concern yourselves with heat gain. While psychologically a fire can mean security, peace of mind and safety, all while keeping you warm, drying clothes, boiling water, or signaling for help; it can also burn you, your clothing, your shelter or the forest, so treat it with the respect it deserves. Check your local library for books on wilderness survival or the “Field Book for Canadian scouting” to become familiar with the methods used to start and use different types of fires.
More about Fire
As well as knowing how to build a fire, you need to know when to use one in a survival situation and when not to use one. Always take into consideration the conditions in the forest and the ground cover surrounding you. never build a fire on dead leaves, pine needles, or peat moss, or leave it unattended when the forest is very dry. You could have a forest fire to deal with! Build your fire on sand, earth or gravel and don’t make it too large. Small fires require less fuel, are easier to control and their heat can be concentrated. In cold weather small fires arranged in a circle around you are more effective than one large fire. A fire can also act as a weather indicator. When smoke rolls low off the fire, it means a low-pressure weather front is moving in, which usually indicates a storm.
in Canada, contrary to popular belief, most animals will not harm humans unless they are provoked, feel they are threatened or are protecting their young. Despite this fact, it is advisable to avoid a wild animal, especially if it looks ferocious when it would usually show fear, or behaves abnormally friendly. Lack of fear for humans should be considered a bad sign. The animal may be old and suffering from starvation, or if it appears to be sickly or is frothing at the mouth it may have rabies. Nearly all warm blooded animals can get rabies, but it is most often found in raccoons, mice, chipmunks, foxes, skunks, bats and ground hogs.
More about Animal Threats
The best thing to do if you see a wild animal is to yell out or blow your whistle to scare it away. At the same time you also may be heard by a searcher.
Like all things in nature there can be and are exceptions to this rule and that exception is the bear. Generally, bears will leave you alone if you leave them alone. But to be on the safe side here is a list of basic precautions to follow to avoid a confrontation with a bear whenever you are in the wilderness:
- If you do have food, never store it in or close to your shelter. Instead, hang it from a tree out of reach of bears and other animals and always away from your shelter.
- Do not cook or eat in or near your shelter area and if possible, do not sleep in clothes worn while cooking as clothing absorbs food odors.
- Never feed a bear!
- Stay away from a mother and her cubs.
- Make noise when you walk in the brush; talk loudly or bang two rocks together to advertise your presence.
- If possible, wash off scented cosmetics – not only may bears be attracted to perfumes, hair sprays and soaps but so are many insects.
- Women should be extra careful during menstruation to take steps to eliminate odors, particularly from used materials, burying them well down wind and far from their shelter.
If you do meet a bear – FREEZE and don’t look at it directly. Talk in a quiet, calm monotone voice. If the bear does not leave, then continue to talk quietly and slowly back away, avoiding abrupt movements and eye contact. If a black bear attacks, fight it off with any weapon you can lay your hands on, even if all you can do is kick or punch the bear. Don’t play dead – this doesn’t work with black bears!
However, if a grizzly bear attacks, play dead! The recommended position is to lie face down on the ground and protect your head and neck by clenching your arms and hands over them. If you are wearing a pack, keep it on your back – it will help protect you. With luck, the bear will quickly lose interest.
The only other threat in the wilds of Canada can be poisonous snakes and insects. Rattlesnakes are the only poisonous snakes in Canada and their bite is rarely fatal! If bitten, your main objective is to slow the spread of the venom. Try to keep calm, breath normally, rest in the shade and reduce your movements to help slow your circulation and the risk of shock. There are some important “do nots” for snakebites. They are: do not cut the fang marks and attempt to suck out the venom, do not apply a tourniquet. You should wash the bite area gently if possible, but do not submerge the limb in cold water or apply cold to the site of the bite.
Snakes, spiders and bees will very rarely attack unless provoked, so exercise caution, keep your eyes and ears alert and watch where you put your hands and feet. Shake out your shoes and clothes before using them and leave bees alone, the honey is not worth the pain. If you have a leech on you do not pull it off, as this can result in an infected wound. Instead, remove the leech by applying heat from a match or a stick from the fire to it. This should cause the leech to drop off. No matter what bites you it is always important to try to wash the wound and to keep it clean.
A pattern of three signals (e.g. three gunshots, three blasts on a whistle, three shouts or three fires) is universally recognized as a distress call. Blowing a whistle is very easy and its sound can travel further than your voice, so always pin one to your shirt or hang one around your neck before going into the wilderness. Choose a plastic whistle that has no pea inside it as the moisture from your breath can freeze the pea, thus disabling the whistle. Also, a plastic whistle will not stick to your lips in the winter.
More about Signaling
A simple visual way of signaling aircraft for help is to use tree boughs, logs, light-coloured rocks, or scratches in the earth to make such commonly used attention-getters as a giant “V”, “X” or “(arrow)”, pointing to your tree to say, “here I am!” You can also spell out the international distress signal, “S-O-S” (Save Our Souls). Each letter should be at least 3 metres (10 feet) in size and 3 metres (10 feet) apart. In the winter tramp out these signs in the snow and lay tree boughs in the tramped depressions to increase the contrast between your signal and the snow. Remember the bigger the better, so make your signals in large open areas of the forest to avoid the branches of the surrounding trees.
Fires can also be used to attract attention. Several fires are far more effective, so arrange three in a straight line, or in a triangle shape, in such a way that the smoke from one fire will not obscure either of the others. space them out about 6 to 30 metres (20 to 100 feet) apart, depending on the size of your clearing. If you use the triangle formation sit in the middle of the triangle so you receive the radiant heat from all the fires to help keep you warm. When the ground is wet or snow covered build the fires on a log platform to prevent self-quenching.
Keep a pile of spruce or pine boughs at hand to throw onto the fires the moment you hear an aircraft, as this will create more smoke at first followed by a brighter fire. if the forest is very dry a fire can quickly get out of control and become a danger to your survival. Make sure to build your fires on rock or bare ground, clear the area around them so a spark does not start a forest fire and there are no branches hanging over the fires.
Signaling with a mirror or shiny object can also be extremely effective in bright sunlight or even on hazy days as the flash from the reflected sunlight can be seen for several miles by an aircraft. to signal with a mirror or shiny object, hold it next to your eye, hold one hand out with a finger or thumb following the aircraft and repeatedly flick the spot of light from the mirror across the thumb and the aircraft. do not bother with a series of three; hit the plane repeatedly with the flash.
Too many people found in the wilderness have suffered needlessly because they were not appropriately dressed for their environment. The wilderness is not a place for a fashion statement. Taking the time to determine what sort of clothing and footwear is required for the terrain and weather conditions you may encounter while on your hike, picnic or camp, can make the difference between an enjoyable adventure or a life-threatening experience.
More about Clothing
When deciding what to wear, always remember that it should keep you warm, dry and protect you from injury. Clothing too brief or too heavy can result in the fatal loss of body heat and fluids.
Instead of wearing one thick piece of clothing there are many additional items you could and use the layering system and wear two or more should carry with you to make your venture layers of clothing to equal one heavy garment. into the woods a comfortable experience, but this way, if you become cold or too hot you can if you make a point of carrying these few items easily add or remove one layer at a time to prevent and take with you a prepared attitude you will under-protecting or overheating your body. Always be ready to enjoy our great outdoors. Whether you are going for a picnic or exploring our vast wilderness, you should always have on you the essentials.
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